9 Shepreneurs who carved a niche for themselves
These 9 women have conquered their respective fields by exploring uncharted territories
USHERING IN A NEW DAWN
Do you know who can tackle India’s employment challenges? Women entrepreneurs in the country have the potential to generate 150-170 million jobs by 2030, which is more than 25 percent of the new jobs required for the entire working-age population, according to a joint report released by Bain and Co. and Google titled ‘Women Entrepreneurship in India—Powering the economy with Her’. Accelerating quantity and quality of entrepreneurship towards such benchmarks can create over 30 million women-owned enterprises, the report said.
(This article was first published in the March 2020 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)
INDIA'S UNDISPUTED STAR SHUTTLER
PV SINDHU, INDIAN BADMINTON PLAYER
When Sindhu struck a silver, it was truly a happy moment for India, thereby raising our expectations as we knew she would be the one who can soon bring Gold. Come April and Sindhu would be preparing further for the Olympics to be scheduled for July. The Olympic year calls for another level of physical endurance. Talking about the differentiated training she would be receiving, she says, “I am working out on my strokes but physical fitness is equally very important.” Currently, she does 6-7 hours of training every day. “Apart from playing, I do weight training, endurance, because endurance is important in long matches for which you need to be physically strong,” she adds. Though winning and losing is a part of the sport, Sindhu aims to give her best to each game. “You just can’t be over confident that you will win against the opponent. In the game, top 10-15 players are of the same standard so you have to strategize accordingly. It’s an equal game and depends on who gives one’s best.”
Badminton is much beyond than just a physical game; your mind also needs to be in control of taking important decisions that too in a fraction of a second. Sindhu says, “If plan A doesn’t work, we need to work on plan B. You need to change the strategy in no time as you are between the points.” Sindhu follows meditation to keep that single-minded focus. She started playing at the age of eight and a half and had her share of ups and downs. On her strategy of bouncing back, she says, “When you keep mulling over your failures at crucial matches, you can’t bounce back. You need to keep reminding yourself that there is still way to go and it’s just not over yet.”
Badminton is much beyond than just a physical game; your mind also needs to be in control of taking important decisions that too in a fraction of a second. Sindhu says, “If plan A doesn’t work, we need to work on plan B. You need to chan8ge the strategy in no time as you are between the points.” Sindhu follows meditation to keep that single-minded focus. She started playing at the age of eight and a half and had her share of ups and downs. On her strategy of bouncing back, she says, “When you keep mulling over your failures at crucial matches, you can’t bounce back. You need to keep reminding yourself that there is still way to go and it’s just not over yet.”
DREAM, BELIEVE, ACHIEVE
During Badminton World Championships in 2018, Sindhu lost in the finals but created history by winning the gold medal in 2019 in Basel. She answered all the naysayers two years after her loss to the same player in the same event in the same round. One has to believe in oneself, she feels. Recalling her defeat, she says, “I could have won the 2018 world championship but lost it due to my own mistakes.” She credits her 2019 victory to her supportive parents, both of whom are former volleyball players, who still keep sharing important tips with the 24-year-old. Though she started playing for fun, her parents supported in every sport she enjoyed. Talking about the minor victories initially, she says, “I started winning at state level rankings. In 2012, I defeated an Olympic gold medalist and I believed in working hard.” Even sponsors like Olympic Gold Quest have stood by her since the last 10 years. The music lover enjoys spending time at home with her one-and-a-halfyear-old nephew. Going forward, her ultimate aim is Tokyo 2020. The fighter in her says, “In badminton, there are couple of times when I would have won the match and I lost it. I go back and rectify to ensure I don’t repeat those mistakes.”
THE REVOLUTIONARY EDUPRENEUR
DIVYA GOKULNATH, CO-FOUNDER & DIRECTOR, BYJU’S
After completing B Tech from RV College of Engineering in Bengaluru, Divya Gokulnath joined BYJU’S as a student to prepare for GMAT and pursue her plan of studying further. It was during this time that she discovered her love for teaching and joined BYJU’S classes as a teacher at the age of 21. “Despite getting through the universities on top of my list, I realized that I had found my passion and I stayed back to continue working with BYJU’S. A couple of years later we created Think & Learn and there has been no looking back since then,” she recalls.
ADDRESSING LEARNING GAPS
India is the largest K12 education system in the world, but we still consistently rank
low in global education assessments due to lack of access to quality teachers, lack of personalized learning and memory-based learning driven by the fear of exams. “We started BYJU’S with a focus to make learning fun and engaging by making it contextual and visual and not just theoretical; to leverage technology and data science, making learning truly personalized to the extent that students will know what to learn, when to learn, how to learn, how much to learn, and how fast to learn and also, to make the best of the teachers available to every student,” Gokulnath mentions. At BYJU’S, the balance starts right at the top - 2 out of 6 board members, 4 out of 8 members in the top management and 40 per cent of the company’s workforce is women. Today, the billion-dollar start-up boasts of 42 million downloads, 3 million paid students and an 85 per cent YoY renewal rate. “Our students spend an average of 71 minutes learning on the app daily, which shows that we have managed to make inroads into our vision of creating self learners, who learn not because of the fear of exams, but for the love of learning,” she says.
THE ACE AUTHOR
SUDHA MURTY, AUTHOR & PHILANTHROPIST
Sudha Murty’s first book was about her adventures as a traveller, shares the then backpacker and today a celebrated author as well as the Chairperson of Infosys foundation. The prolific fiction author of more than 40 books in Kannada and English studied Engineering. Murty has been writing only in Kannada until she turned 50 when she started writing English columns for a national daily. Soon she collated all the columns and authored a book. When asked if she has ever felt the writer’s block, Murty mentions, “When you write a book for some time, you don’t feel like writing anymore but then after some time, it goes away naturally.” Talking about her move from Kannada to English as an author, she says, “English can be translated to various Indian languages.” As per the author, the medium of seeking knowledge has changed as people are now more interested in gaining it through a Kindle or a Google. On the importance of instilling the habit of reading in younger generation, Murty says, “Make sure the content you give them is relevant in the Indian context. Parents too must insist on reading with them alongside.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Murty has founded several orphanages and contributed extensively towards rural development. Talking about her philanthropic nature, she shares, “I always feel like lending a helping hand to the poorer sections of society.” Her wake-up call towards working for the less privileged was when, in her book ‘Three Thousand Stitches’, she shares an incident when her daughter asks her about our duty towards the society.
Murty played a significant role as the better half of India’s leading entrepreneur Narayan Murthy. At a time when both of them could have taken the entrepreneurial route, Murty took a back step. Sharing the role of a partner in the life of a successful entrepreneur,
she says, “As a partner, you have to cooperate a lot with him. You may not go out for dinner during weekends or you may not be able to spend much time with him but you definitely get to reap the fruits of doing great work.” But it will be all worth it, she feels, because an entrepreneur helps create so many lives. “So directly you are contributing
towards a great social cause,” signs off Murty.
A TRUE CHAMPION
LAXMI AGARWAL, ACID ATTACK SURVIVOR
Acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal has been an inspiring crusader in leading the change. Her indomitable spirit further led Meghna Gulzar to make a movie this year on the life of the activist Laxmi Agarwal, who was burned with acid in New Delhi 2005, and has since become an advocate for banning the sale of acid in India. Her unbreakable spirit is bound to inspire everyone and fight the biggest challenges like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Agarwal says, “Why should I cry on what’s gone. I’d rather accept the challenge.” Today she is a campaigner of the rights of acid attack victims. Talking about all those who helped in her journey, she says, “My lawyer fought my case free of cost.” Once she accepted to
move on, people came forward to support her. Today she is a proud owner of an NGO. “I
fight for equality in society. We need to change the mindset of men to accept ‘no’ as an answer. We also need to change the mindsets of children as well as parents. The attack is not just on the victim but on the entire family. Children need to be friends with their family to share their problems,” she feels.
THE DEMOCRATIC LEADER
SINDHU GANGADHARAN, SVP & MD, SAP LABS INDIA
Bringing the right content to the table, articulating it and bringing her best self to work each day are some of the only traits that have ensured Sindhu Gangadharan’s growth in each of her roles at SAP. She considers herself extremely fortunate for getting the opportunity to be a part of the company since 1999. Gangadharan has always been obsessed with integration technology. “In my previous roles at SAP as head of product
management for three of SAP’s strategic integration solutions, my teams have had a pivotal role in shaping our Integration Technology portfolio, supporting SAP’s cloud solutions in adopting these technologies and helping companies in their transition to cloud-based computing. I am proud that together with my teams we have helped our customers in their transition into the digital economy,” she says.
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
In 2020, SAP is dedicated to creating disruptive solutions for its customers and partners to
help them become ‘Intelligent Enterprises’. Gangadharan states, “Our plans are focused
across four pillars – making SAP Labs India the most innovative, collaborative and customercentric development centre, having an end-to-end product focus, with our employees being recognized for their thought leadership and innovative mindset, and ensuring that diversity and inclusion are at the core of our work culture.” On the impact of an entrepreneurial culture, she says, “We encourage our own people to come up with disruptive ideas for which we have provided a platform.”
ENTREPRENEUR TURNED INVESTOR
ANISHA SINGH, FOUNDER, SHE CAPITAL
Anisha Singh founded Mydala 10 years ago and through the course of her journey, she was at various forums that addressed to make the environment more inclusive for women entrepreneurs. “Funding seemed to be one of the biggest hurdles for women entrepreneurs to scale businesses,” she says. Studies and statistics show that the only way to change this is to have more women on the investment side of the table.
That led to the idea of She Capital.
Sharing more about her fund, Singh says, “I think women entrepreneurs are a gravely underestimated force and I am happy to have the opportunity to invest in them. We have already seen a phenomenal number of female-led unicorn startups out of the US last year. She Capital and I want to be at the helm of supporting, when the wave of the femaleled unicorn businesses start out of India.” In January this year, She Capital announced its first investment into a food tech company led by a phenomenal entrepreneur. Talking about upcoming investments, she says, “We are in the process of shortlisting and locking down our next investment. Over the next couple of years our vision is to invest in 12-14 high growth women-led companies.”
THE IMPACT STORY TELLER
SUPRIYA PAUL, DIRECTOR & CO-FOUNDER, JOSH TALKS
In an ecstatic tone, Supriya Paul’s driver Surinder, tells her mother over the phone, “Badhai ho, driver hua hai!” He called to announce the birth of his son, and this child’s future had already been decided. “That moment hit me but I never decided to act upon it. It was only in 2015 when I met Shobhit and he shared a series of similar experiences which led to us finding our common frustration and then having several conversations and whiteboard sessions, thereby leading us to create Josh,” Paul recalls.
HOW’S THE JOSH?
Josh Talks uses storytelling to help build a huge audience funnel (to the tune of 45 million
monthly) and its value add-on services are then sold to this audience at extremely affordable costs. “We have our own online learning portal where we charge to the tune of Rs 299-Rs 599 for courses like English Speaking, Personality Development and more. We also have a lot of ongoing corporate partnerships for programmes run with the youth in Tier II, III and IV cities. Some of the organisations who support us include Facebook, ITC, Edelweiss, United Nations and more,” she shares.
The start-up began with organising physical conferences to raise the aspirations of young India. In order to reach a wider audience, it soon started creating content in vernacular languages which was made available online. “When we started five years ago, we had limited resources and virtually no team. Shobhit and I had to do everything on our own,
with support from our friends and family. From curating the scripts of our speakers, reaching out to partners, shooting and editing videos, to even mopping the floor - I have done it all,” Paul shares.
BOLD, BEAUTIFUL & VALIANT
TAHIRA KASHYAP, WRITER & FILMMAKER
When Tahira Kashyap, wife of leading bollywood actor Ayushmann Khurrana, was diagnosed with breast cancer, it wasn’t easy for the young couple to come to terms with reality. Whether it was positivity or her husband’s support after her initial fight, Kashyap has now made it a case for herself to raise awareness about early breast cancer detection. With increasing incidences of breast cancer in younger age groups, she is often seen speaking at various forums to create awareness about breast examination in India. On her fight with cancer, Kashyap says, “I am more than just a disease. My aim now is to create awareness about early breast cancer detection.” Currently, she practises Buddhism to ensure better mental health and bring a positive change in the world.
THE OFFICE WEAR REINVENTOR
AYUSHI GUDWANI, FOUNDER & CEO, FABLESTREET
In an industry that is growing yet struggling on sizing in women’s work-wear, it was a challenge to dream of great fits for Indian bodies. FableStreet aimed at resolving such issues for the modern professional woman by providing customer-focused products backed by strong research and development. “Our USPs include versatile styles, luxury fabrics and tailored fits. We ensure that we achieve and maintain the highest standards of customer experience through numerous media, where clients can reach us through our customer experience team. We also ship internationally for those who wish to gift a unique, true-to-size fashion experience to their loved ones abroad,” elaborates Ayushi Gudwani, Founder & CEO, FableStreet.
With 20 corporate staff and more than 100 workforce in manufacturing and operations, FableStreet is a vertically integrated brand with its own website as its primary channel of commerce. The start-up has demonstrated strong brand followership and growth trajectory of 3-4x YoY. “We engage with more than 5,00,000 professional women per month, across website
and social media. We have also served more than 50,000 customers, with an average order value of Rs 4,500 + and more than 50 per cent of revenue coming from repeat customers (thus ensuring significant loyalty). Our returns are less than 7 per cent,” Gudwani mentions.